Presidential elections in Nigéria: UNOWAS’s preventive action, contribution to peaceful elections in Nigeria
Given Nigeria’s strategic position in West Africa and in the continent, and given the internal challenges, it was vital to support Nigeria in conducting peaceful, free and credible elections. This is the work that UNOWAS undertook with various regional and international partners to help ensure peaceful elections and prevent any outbreak of violence.
Within the framework of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)’s mandate to support peaceful political processes including free, and credible elections, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, undertook several missions to Nigeria with the objective of supporting the country’s efforts towards conducting peaceful 2019 general elections. These interventions intensified as the country approached the presidential and national assembly elections of 23 February, and the governorship and state assembly elections of 9 March 2019.
As a follow-up to previous missions, Ibn Chambas visited Abuja from 7 to 9 October 2018 for consultations on support to the 2019 elections. The visit took place immediately after the conventions of the political parties and the nomination of their respective flagbearers.
From 29 to 31 October, the Special Representative participated in a joint pre-electoral mission to Nigeria with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). The mission consulted with President Muhammadu Buhari, the Office of the Inspector General of Police, senior military officials, civil society organizations and other key actors and institutions on national efforts and the partner’s support to ensure peaceful elections.
Consultations with key stakeholders
The objective was to sustain UN’s efforts in support of peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. with a focus on possible election hotspots
In the same vein, from 11 to 24 November 2018, Ibn Chambas visited stakeholders in Kaduna, Rivers, Anambra and Benue states, and engaged the State Governors, the Resident Electoral Commissioners, state security officials, as well as civil society on preparations for the elections. The objective was to sustain UN’s efforts in support of peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. with a focus on possible election hotspots. To this end, he carried out consultations with key stakeholders both at federal and state levels and held debriefing sessions with International partners and the diplomatic corps accredited to Nigeria with an aim to garner their support and enhance coherence in the international community support.
From 11 to 12 December 2018, the Head of UNOWAS witnessed the signing of the Peace Accord between the political parties and their presidential candidates, committing to a peaceful process and outcome. Subsequently, on 13 February 2019, he also attended the second signing of the National Peace Accord by candidates for the presidential election. During the ceremony, Ibn Chambas underlined the huge role and responsibility of candidates, their parties and supporters in ensuring that the process remains peaceful, credible and transparent. He encouraged all stakeholders to respect the rule of law they may have arising from the process.
Throughout his visits, the Special Representative consistently stressed that Nigeria occupies a strategic position in West Africa, in the continent and indeed globally. In this regard, he underlined how crucial it was that Nigeria delivers credible, peaceful and fair elections in 2019, in a manner that improves upon the performance of the 2015 elections.
In preparation for the elections, UNOWAS, in partnership with the National Peace Committee (NPC) and the UN country team in Nigeria organized a series of events in a number of potential hotspot states including Benue, Kaduna, Kano, and Kwara, to galvanize stakeholders’ support towards peaceful 2019 elections. The events brought together the leadership of political parties in the respective States, candidates for various elections, traditional and religious leaders, security services, federal and state institutions, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), civil society organizations including youth, women’s groups and persons with disability as well as the media.
Promoting peaceful elections and democratic consolidation in Nigeria
The state-level events aimed to reinforce sensitization and awareness, facilitate exchange and build synergy among stakeholders for peaceful 2019 elections. This initiative was also geared towards complementing ongoing peace and development initiatives in the various states to promote violence-free and an inclusive process before, during and after the voting and the declaration of the final election results.
During the state-level fora, the Head of UNOWAS reiterated the UN’s resolve to support initiatives at both the state and federal levels, in alignment with regional efforts aimed at promoting peaceful elections and democratic consolidation in Nigeria. He urged all stakeholders, in accordance with their pledges, to avoid hate messages and the politics of acrimony, bitterness, and rancor that undermine peaceful conduct of elections. He also called on all to work towards improving on the numbers of youths and women fielded by political parties in future elections.
The UN contributed to defuse tensions around the elections
During the elections, Ibn Chambas contributed to coordinating the international community’s support to national efforts for peaceful elections. He held regular consultations with the Heads of the International Observers Missions deployed to Nigeria and worked closely with national observers. In this regard, the UN contributed to defusing tensions around the elections and encouraged all stakeholders to resolutely work towards peaceful and credible elections in the country. Following the postponement of the general elections from 16 to 23 February, UNOWAS, together with the electoral observers of ECOWAS, AU, The Commonwealth, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), EU, NDI/IRI, OIC, called on all Nigerians to continue to remain calm and supportive of the electoral process as INEC worked to implement its new timeline.
SRSG Chambas continued engagement with key political actors even after the elections and the proclamation of results to urge them to address any contentious issues in line with the rule of law.